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Sexual Abuse FAQs

Sexual Abuse FAQs

The ongoing legal battles related to sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America have, once again, called attention to the many problems that may face adults who were sexually abused as children. In today’s post, the sexual abuse lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will answer some of the more commonly asked questions that arise when the problem of sexual abuse is discussed.

What is sexual abuse?

The exact legal definition of sexual abuse varies from state. In general, sexual abuse (called molestation in some states) occurs when a person forces sexual contact or behavior by another without the other’s voluntary participation or consent. A sexual abuser typically uses a position of authority or power to coerce the victim to perform some act that the abuser finds sexually exciting or for their own sexual satisfaction. The abuser then uses their position to intimidate the victim to not tell anyone about the abuse or to report it to law enforcement authorities.

Who is a sexual abuser?

The “typical” sexual abuser is an adult who uses their position of authority (such as an athletic coach, educator, counselor, or a member of the clergy) to obtain sexual gratification from others. In general, a sexual abuser does not use physical force on a victim but relies on gaining the victim’s trust or respect to win their cooperation. If physical force is used against an uncooperative victim, sexual assault has occurred.

Who are the victims of sexual abuse?

In the vast majority of cases, sexual abuse victims are children or teens. However, there are instances where adults are victims of sexual abuse at the hand of another adult that the victim believed to be in a position of power or authority, as in the recent infamous case of Harvey Weinstein.

Can someone consent to sexual abuse?

No! By definition, sexual abuse occurs without the victim’s consent or voluntary participation. Most state laws hold that a person who is under the influence of alcohol, a drug that induces sleep, or is mentally impaired cannot give consent. Furthermore, every state has a law that defines an age of consent, usually from 16 to 18 years of age. Anyone below this age is considered legally incapable of consenting to a sexual act, regardless of whether or not they initially consented to it.

Is sexual abuse a crime?

Yes! Each state has its own definition of sexual abuse as set forth in its criminal and civil codes, although the penalties attached to a criminal conviction on a sexual abuse charge are typically less severe than the penalty for sexual assault conviction. However, each state also has statutes of limitations that set time limits on how long after a sexual abuse incident criminal charges can be filed.

Are there any long-term effects of sexual abuse?

Yes! Many victims of sexual abuse during their childhood or teenage years will, for any number of reasons, not mention their abuse to family members or to their close friends and thus try to suppress their memories of the abuse. When victims try to suppress or internalize their emotions their emotional response to sexual abuse they often develop serious psychological disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, victims of childhood sexual abuse are at higher risk for:

  • Chronic depression

  • Suicide and attempted suicide

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Substance abuse, including opioid abuse/addiction

  • Chronic medical conditions such as obesity and heart disease

I was a victim of sexual abuse. What are my legal rights?

In many cases, childhood sexual abuse isn’t reported until years after the abuse occurred. Thus a state’s statutes of limitations may have “run out” or expired and the abuser cannot face criminal charges. However, every state’s civil (non-criminal) law views sexual abuse as a type of personal injury and may allow a victim to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser if certain conditions and facts can be proved to a court. Although there is considerable variation in civil law from state to state, an adult victim of childhood sexual assault may be able to file a civil lawsuit if the civil statutes of limitations have not expired.

Most states have changed their civil laws to toll (suspend) their statutes of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases. In general, the civil statutes of limitations begin to run when the victim reaches the age of 18 or when the victim becomes aware that some physical or emotional problem was caused by sexual abuse earlier in their life (the “discovery rule”). A few states allow a childhood sexual abuse to be filed at any point in the victim’s lifetime, but most states set a limit of between 3 to 10 years.

If you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse and are suffering the effects of that abuse, you are legally entitled to file a civil lawsuit against your abuser to recover damages (compensation) for your abuse, including the costs of past, current, and future medical treatment directly due to your abuse as well as punitive damages intended to deter the abuser (or other, potential, abusers) from injuring others.


Victims of sexual abuse can face a number of challenges when they seek to hold their abusers accountable for their actions, with getting a better understanding of their legal rights at the top of the list. At The Doan Law Firm, we have years of representing clients who were victims of sexual assault and recognize that adults who suffer from the effects of childhood sexual abuse are often reluctant to seek help because:

  • merely recounting the abuse is too emotionally painful

  • they are afraid “no one will believe me”

  • they may alienate themselves from their families, friends, or from their church

  • they feel “it happened so long ago that there’s nothing I can do

If you are a victim of sexual abuse, no matter how long ago that abuse may have happened, we invite you to contact the sexual abuse lawyer at T he Doan Law Firm to arrange a free, no obligation, and confidential review of your case and a discussion of the legal options that may be available to you.

When you contact The Doan Law Firm, there is never a charge for us to review the facts in your case or for you to speak directly with our sexual abuse lawyer to get an understanding of your legal rights.

After discussing your case with our sexual abuse lawyer, if you feel that a lawsuit is in your best interest and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement we are prepared to win for you.

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